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May 31, 2011

Ramp I.T. Up! With Skate!, Native American skateboard culture returns to the museum

A few curious onlookers stop to see what we are doing. I hear a “Cool! Can we come back?” With this, I turn to see a young father provide an assuring smile and a pat on his son’s back. It’s about 10:30 in the morning, and we are setting up equipment on the 3rd floor between the Vantage Point exhibition and the Activity Center, now under construction. TV? Check. Game installed? Check. Board calibrated and communicating with the TV? Oh, no, it’s not turning on. Hmmmm, time for fresh batteries? The hunt is on to find a tiny Phillips screwdriver to remove the board's back cover. My colleague walks up at just the right time and pulls out his pocket toolkit. Success! With batteries replaced, the board’s blue light is on. I pick up the remote, press the letter A, and the rock music starts. Now . . . we wait for the testers.


Skateboarding is an indigenous sport. The modern skateboard, or deck, owes its heritage to thepapa he‘e malu(surfboards) andpapahōlua (land sleds) of Native Hawaiians. And did you know that the International Association of Skateboard Companies estimates that nearly 12 million American children participate in skateboarding—more than the number enrolled in Little League Baseball? Skateboarding is also one of the most popular sports on Indian reservations, and the subject of Ramp It Up: Skateboard Culture in Native Americaa highly successful exhibition at NMAI in Washington and New York. So it seemed only fitting to find a way to bring skateboarding—and the wonderful content from Ramp It Up—back to the museum. But how could we do this in a small space? Enter the I.T. (Information Technology) staff and the game Tony Hawk: Shred, here played on a Wii.

At various times during the months of April and May, you may have seen us testing the Shred skateboard experience with visitors. We’ve been checking to see if the public understands the themes and messages and if the interactive can work without regular, direct staff involvement. We’ve been pleased to find the answer to these questions is yes. We’ve enjoyed watching visitors from young children to older adults approach the skateboard. Some people have known exactly how to work the controls, gleefully speeding toward the finish line while their friends or parents offer congratulations for a game well skated. Others have steadfastly tried to complete a run after they electronically ate it, hearing the game's “Oooo!” followed by a sympathetic “Ow!” from the gathered crowd. 

Taking turns

On any given test day, we’ll observe the interaction for about two hours or until it seems like a good time to pack up. On this day, it’s now 12:30. I turn off the monitor, collect the cords, remind myself to recharge the batteries, and roll the equipment cart to the staff elevator. I take one last look around and then disappear behind the camouflage doors feeling pretty confident that the test went well.

Want to know more about this activity? I invite you to get amped and check out your 5-0 with a jam session when the Activity Center opens later this year!      

—Erin Weinman, I.T. Applications Manager, NMAI

Visitors testing the Skate! activity at the museum, April 29, 2011. Photos by Katherine Fogden (Mohawk), NMAI.

Comments (29)

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Absolutely amazing piece of invention. Kids gotta love it much :)

Great idea. Provide great education and make it fun! And good exercise as well. It seems like this could (should) be incorporated into more of the curriculum.

Now that looks like fun. I had no idea you could skate board on the Wii. I have a Wii and did not know this was available. I must say my kids would love this.. I wonder if Tony Hawk or Rob Dyrdek assisted in the development of this game. This reminds me back in the day, when I use to skateboard.. This looks like a much safer way to skateboard. Well I am glad I found this, my kids will be super excited too. :)

Landon Shire

I have heard about this game at the end of 2010. Only by looking at how this game works, I could take a decision that this is a kind of break through in gaming. To me, this is the the "real game" to play. A game in which moving the whole body to play, I like this game.

one of the benefits of technology, we can play indoor skateboard. thanks

great, i used to love skateboarding 30 years ago an i did not know the origin, i think this should be advertised as part of the rich cultural heritage that native americans gave to world culture.

Wow, this is a great way of promoting Native American skateboard culture; very interesting read. Thank you!

Webmaster of Longboard Reviews

This is really new for me. We have a Wii-Fit Plus at home that we use in conjunction with the big TV. However, we never thought about adding skateboarding to the games. Now we will look for it at the shops.

Also I think this is a great way for kids to stay healthy whilst having fun at the same time. So are still doing the tests?

Matt. (Orlando, Florida)

Perhaps the actual skateboard the kids are standing on should be replaced with a more authentic "papa he‘e malu" to more firmly make the connection between the modern sport and the origin from the surfboard?

Dave L.

This is new for me.I think this is a great thing for kids to stay healthy and hvaing fun.thank you very much.

That looks great for kids, but I still think they would prefer the real thing. It looks like a cross between a skateboard and a surboard.

I love this! Ever since we bought our Wii, it has been extremely convenient to have something like this to keep the kids active indoors. Especially during very cold weather and we just went through a very, very hot summer here in the south. Thanks for posting this. I'm sure your readers will value this article as much as I have.

Any activity that keeps our youth not in front of the TV is excellent. Skateboard is much of our culture now then any other recreational sport.

I think any good activity that keeps our youth active is an excellent idea

Skateboarding if fun and love it too. Its sure a piece of America culture.

This is how technology works. It is an exercise, thrill, adventure and fun in one. Kids would love it and the parents would also be happy because unlike any other video games, they also need to exert energy.

Maybe I shouldn't comment as I haven't yet tested the board but it might be even better with a small height from the floor...

Yes I think the benefits of such games go beyond fun, this could be the cure to obesity and potato couch syndrome that we're now witnessing in the modernized world.

Interactive games will continue to evolve and for the most part it is for the good. You may see kids with their heads down on their ipads and think they are video gaming zombies, but tablets are also amazing learning devices.

Looking forward to the snowboarding game!

I so like that skateboard. I really like the technology nowadays.


Love the technology for indoor skateboard! Just curious to try myself :) This kinda game is really interesting. All the time simply, I use to play online games. I just wanna try this indoor Skate!

The indoor skateboards look awesome that would work great since we are in Colorado.

Kids love anything with video it seems! At least it gets them moving and can help get them activity when the weather is bad!

Nice article good to read this. i love skateboard and i have many skateboard in my childhood.

Thanks for this sharing this wonderful project and educating the world on the real origins of skateboarding.

I really like to play games and this of one of my favorite.
Looking to play like this. Thanks for this.

Thank you for this information.

really enjoyed to read this article

This is my first time pay a quick visit at here and i am truly impressed to read everything in one place.

May 24, 2011

The Ka'apor : Production in the Brazilian Rainforest

Ka'apor reserve
I hopped out of our rental car. The sounds of the Amazon rainforest filled my ears, and as I looked down, next to my sandals huge red ants were streaming by. My Brazilian cameraman said, “I wouldn’t let those ants get too close. They’ll leave a mark.” I was back in the car, scrambling for something to cover my feet. We were on a dusty dirt road on the way to visit the Ka’apor tribe in the state of Maranhão in Brazil. Our team had been stuck in Belem for three days, trying to secure two trucks to take us on the pothole-filled roads that we would have to follow to reach their village. We had finally made the best of it with a couple of VW Gol economy cars. Now we were in the rainforest, and the road ahead was submerged under a few feet of water. Luckily we were a short hike away from our destination.

                       Sequence 1 Valdemar Yupara

It was an incredible privilege to visit the Ka’apor’s village and to interview many of the tribal members and include part of their story in the museum’s inaugural exhibition Our Peoples. Although there was no English spoken outside of our team, I was warmly welcomed by the community. I slept in a hammock outside under the trees, and it lightly rained every morning around 4am. During the day, we trekked with the Ka’apor into the heart of largest rainforest in the world to see where poachers had illegally removed valuable trees from the Ka’apor’s land. Loggers have been invading the land occupied by Amazon Natives since the 1990s, looking for highly valued wood such as mahogany, which is illegal to harvest in Brazil. Although the tribe did not wish to speak about it on camera for fear of retaliation, tribal members protesting increased mandates to log their forests have been shot and killed.

                        Sequence 1 Kids Walking in the forest

This video was produced in 2004, but the Ka’apor still have to struggle to protect the forest within their designated reserve. The English voice in this video is that of anthropologist Dr. William Balée, who traveled with the team and provided a wealth of knowledge about ethnobotany, the tribe’s lifeways, and the historical ecology of the area. Vincent Carelli, a documentary film director and editor and the founder and co-director of Vídeo nas Aldeias/Video in the Villages, was the cameraman for this project and I remain indebted to his skill in bringing this story to life.


Comments (20)

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The Ka'apor have always been known as distinctive people. They engaged in a long and slow migration that took them by the 1870s in Pará across the Gurupi River into Maranhão.

Reading your post have brought some visions of another tribe of the world. Well thank you for posting this article. I believe it will enrich other's about the diversity of this world.

It is so sad that the deforestation is forcing so many people to leave their homes, having to move to the unknown. Hopefully, one day Brasil will be able to mitigate further losses in the rain forest.

I love to travel these places.these tribals are my research subject.
Thanks for sharing
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I would be interested in reading more and knowing how to make good using of those way you talk about. Thanks for taking time to discuss on this topic.
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This blog information is so helpful for all mankind. It is a great article for that requirement.Thank you for submitted that blog.

Most woodworkers supply are from Brazil which in turn encroaches on these tribes. But I guess the use of more new materials in woodworking will help reduce deforestation.

Wow! I had no idea that they had to fight so hard. I knew most of the wood I work with comes from Brazil, but wow. I guess I'll have to start finding some renewable forest resources from now on. Great post.

What a shame. These greedy business men and loggers don't even think about the interest of other people and most importantly of nature that depends on the trees and other life forms in the forest. Guess, they will only learn their lesson after it's already too late. Sustainable development should be a priority like what they do in the east.

I was willed a very detailed life size wooden carving of a indian warrior or hunter from deep inside the brazilian rainforest. It was a six day hike on foot to get to this village to obtain this carving that was aquired by trading blankets and cloths.

Great post I must say. Simple but yet interesting and engaging. Keep up a good work!

wow great information

in my country forest today still keep but few area compare to 10years ago

A great story. Keep up the good work.

It is so sad that the deforestation is forcing so many people to leave their homes, having to move to the unknown. Hopefully, one day Brazil will be able to mitigate further losses in the rain forest.

Wood cutting at the rain forests for furnitures and papar manufactures should be banned and strick monitoring should be maintaines. Growing trees for these special purpose as a farming should be encouraged instead.

Useful information like this one must be kept and maintained so I will put this one on my twitter list!

The rain forest sounds like possibly the coolest vacation ever. If more people went, more people would appreciate. Great post!

thank you very useful article once brilliant idea

not mostly true.
in my country, there are some logging company who take social responsible regarding wood cutting. Renewable forest always become the main priority.

good work

May 23, 2011

Making Miss Chief: Kent Monkman Takes on the West

UPDATE: Kent Monkman’s performance at NMAI, originally scheduled for June 2011, will take place Friday, February 24, 2012, at 6:00 p.m. Please visit www.AmericanIndian.si.edu/calendar for more information.

Below is an article by Kate Morris about Monkman and his alter ego, Miss Chief. It originally appeared in the Spring 2011 issue of NMAI's American Indian magazine.

MonkmanKent Monkman (Photo by Chris Chapman)

Miss Chief, the legendary First Nations performer, will make her much-anticipated debut in the United States this June, sweeping into the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. Her aptly titled solo show The Triumph of Mischief has garnered rave reviews during its three-year Canadian tour.

Portraits of the star already adorn the walls of the Mall Museum. Among the 31 works by 25 artists that comprise the exhibition Vantage Point: The Contemporary Native Art Collection (through Aug. 7, 2011) are five photographic portraits of Miss Chief, collectively titled Emergence of a Legend. Here viewers encounter Miss Chief in various personae. She appears as “The Hunter” in George Catlin’s Indian  Gallery of the 1830s, resplendent in feathered headdress, fringed buckskin skirt and seven-inch platform heels, sporting her Louis Vuitton arrow quiver. In another frame, she is the exotic and alluring “Trapper’s Bride” in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, and in another, silent film star Cindy Silverscreen, enrobed in luxurious floor-length fur.

Monkman Kent Monkman (Cree), The Emergence of a Legend (detail), 2007. Digital prints on metallic paper, 6" x 4", 26/7169.

These are the many guises of Miss Chief, but all are ultimately the invention of Cree artist Kent Monkman, who created Miss Chief as his own alter ego. Emergence of a Legend documents Monkman’s assumption of the role of Miss Chief, with the assistance of makeup artist Jackie Shan, designer Izzy Camilleri and photographer Christopher Chapman. The five digital photographs in the series are chromogenic prints, printed on metallic paper and framed in gilded wood to recall the tintype processes of late 19th century portraiture.

For Monkman, both the cross-dressing aspects of his performance and the allusion to visual  representations of the past are crucial. As he once explained it, “Emulating the context of the original[s] as ethnological documentation… [mine] play with power dynamics within sexuality to challenge historical assumptions of sovereignty, art, commerce, and colonialism.” These are lofty ambitions, but anyone who has encountered Miss Chief in the flesh knows that she – and Monkman – are up to the challenge.

Kent Monkman is a member of the Fisher River Cree Nation of northern Manitoba. He was born in 1965 in St. Mary’s, Ont., his mother’s hometown. For the first two years of his life, his family – Cree father, Irish/English mother, and four children – lived in the small Manitoba community of Shamattawa, where his parents had met and served together as Christian missionaries. When Monkman was two, the family settled permanently in Winnipeg, where his father was raised and where many of his Cree relatives still lived. The year was 1967, and Monkman recalled in an interview with Maclean’s magazine that the middle-class neighborhood they moved into was not wholly welcoming to his mixed family: “There were neighbors who wouldn’t speak to my dad when he moved into that neighborhood. It was hard for him to accept that, but he knew that putting his kids into better schools was going to give us a better shot down the road.”

In Winnipeg, Monkman did receive a quality education, especially in the arts. By the age of four he was taking Saturday morning classes at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, determined from that early age to become an artist. At seventeen, Monkman moved to Toronto to continue his studies in painting and drawing at Sheridan College in Oakville. While working towards a degree in illustration (which he completed in 1989) he also became involved in theater and set design. His skills in all of these areas are clearly manifested in Emergence of a Legend. However, the first of Monkman’s works to receive wide critical
acclaim were his paintings.

Monkman Portrait of the Artist as Hunter, 2002, acrylic on canvas, 23.6" x 35.9"

In early 2000, Monkman embarked on a series of acrylic paintings that are inspired recreations of canonical 19th-century European representations of Native peoples and the North American West. Paintings by George Catlin, Paul Kane, John Mix Stanley and Albert Bierstadt are reproduced nearly brushstroke for brushstroke, yet always with a subversive twist that exposes the romanticism and inherent racism of the originals. Portrait of the Artist as Hunter (2002), now in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada, depicts a furious buffalo hunt played out across the backdrop of a majestic prairie landscape. In the middle ground, nearly naked Indians on horseback race into the stampeding  herd, while a wild-eyed bull in the lower right turns back on the hunters and towards the viewer. Dramatic thunderclouds tower overhead.

As Stanley or Catlin might have painted it in the mid-19th century, the hunt is at once a timeless scene and an elegy for the past. The Indians and their way of life are destined to go the way of the buffalo, and only the painter is left to preserve their memory. The nostalgia of the image is thoroughly trounced, however, by Monkman’s insertion into the scene of two additional figures in the left foreground. Charging into the frame is an Indian warrior in hot pursuit of a cowboy who flees before him. The cowboy wears chaps but no trousers, and the warrior drawing his bow is taking careful aim at the cowboy’s naked buttocks.

Observing the Indian’s costume – pink beaded headdress band, flowing loincloth and stiletto heels – contemporary viewers will recognize the warrior as none other than Miss Chief. In 2002 she was a relative unknown; Portrait of the Artist as Hunter is the first record of her existence. Though not all of Monkman’s paintings in this vein feature Miss Chief, the role she plays in Portrait of the Artist as Hunter is characteristic of this emerging genre. In Monkman’s paintings, figures of frontier mythology such as cowboys and Indians, trappers, pioneers, missionaries and explorers interact in unexpected ways, trading and fighting but also romancing, cavorting and coupling in this exclusively masculine realm.

Monkman Dance to the Berdash, George Catlin (1796-1872) oil on canvas, 1835-1837, Smithsonian American Art
Museum, Gift of Mrs. Joseph Harrison, Jr. Object number: 1985.66.442

In a 2007 interview with the Royal Ontario Museum’s magazine, ROM, Monkman was quick to  acknowledge that his vision of the West is a subjective one: “The works of artists such as George Catlin and Paul Kane intrigue me. For many, these romantic visions of the New World and its Aboriginal people were assumed to be literal depictions, a kind of reportage photography of the wild landscape and the ‘romantic savage.’ Of course these painters brought their own values and expectations to their work… They took significant license in their paintings. My work, in many ways, challenges their vision of the world. I’m reimagining their world and I’m bringing my own perspective, my own values and prejudices, to it.”

In particular, Monkman intends to address the erasure of alternate forms of gender and sexuality from the standardized accounts of Native (and non-Native) histories. Miss Chief is avowedly two-spirited, embodying the attributes of both male and female. She represents a third gender category that was acknowledged and honored in many traditional Indian communities. Catlin himself sketched a Dance to the Berdash [third gender] but immediately thereafter noted in his journal his contempt for the ceremony, expressing his hope that such practices (and identities) might soon be “extinguished.” In bringing Miss Chief to life on the canvas and off, Monkman ensures that Catlin’s wish will remain unfulfilled.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of Miss Chief ’s entry into the scene in Portrait of the Artist as Hunter is the fact that from her very debut, she is firmly established as Monkman’s alter ego (literally “other self ”). The title of the work identifies her as such. By the time we see her again, the bond between Monkman and Miss Chief has become even stronger. In the lower corner of Artist and Model (2003) – a painting that depicts Miss Chief in the act of dutifully sketching a cowboy who is stripped  naked and bound to a tree before her – we find the signature “S.E.T.” These are not Monkman’s initials, but Miss Chief ’s; her full name is variously given as Miss Chief Share Eagle Testickle or some shortened form thereof. In naming his alter ego after a play on the word egotistical and then subsuming his identity into hers, Monkman thoroughly confuses the relationship between artist and subject.

A single component of Artist and Model preserves the distinction between Monkman and Miss Chief: aesthetics. Monkman’s painting is typical of this series; it is rendered in an exquisitely romantic/realist style that plays with subtleties of light and shadow, sharp focus and hazy atmospheric effects. Miss Chief ’s painting-within-thepainting is hilariously divergent: her canvas is a sheet of birchbark, and on it her rendering of the model is but a stick figure set against a blank background.

Monkman Kent Monkman (Cree), The Emergence of a Legend (detail), 2007. Digital prints on metallic paper, 6" x 4" each, 26/7170

As fresh, engaging and imaginative as Monkman’s Miss Chief is, it is important to note that as an artistic alter ego, she is not without precedent. Her genealogy may be traced at least as far back as 1921, the year that the Dada trickster Marcel Duchamp transformed himself into Rrose Selavy. According to the mythology that has grown up around the invention of the character (her name is a pun on the French phrase “Eros c’est la vie” or “Eros is life”), Duchamp created his cross-dressed alter ego in an attempt to “get away from himself.” In Europe during the inter-war period, Duchamp and his Dada collaborators decided that the most radical shift in identity that a Catholic man could make was to become a Jewish woman. Thus Duchamp donned the art deco cloche hat, fur coat and lavish jewelry of his colleague Francis Picabia’s girlfriend, Germaine Everling, and Man Ray took the photograph that would immortalize their collective invention.

Once created as a visual image, Rrose took on a life of her own: she authored letters to Duchamp’s friends, created surrealist word games, and, like Miss Chief, ultimately lent her signature to works of art. The sense of liberation from convention that Duchamp discovered in the guise of a crossdressed alter ego is one that many 20th century artists have embraced.

In the world of contemporary Native art perhaps the nearest analog to Rrose Selavy or Miss Chief is to be found in the series of selfportraits that Mohawk photographer Shelley Niro produced in 1991, collectively titled Mohawks in Beehives. In these warm, humorous images, the artist and her three sisters appear done up in towering beehive hairdos, wearing tacky 1950s fashions and clowning for the camera. Niro described the genesis of the series to an interviewer: “[It] was created in March of ’91, after Oka and the Gulf War…. Everybody was trying to fight the depression that lingered over that month. So I thought up Mohawks in Beehives as a way of bringing a bit of control into my life and the people around me; the control is really a state of liberation, a freedom in expressing ourselves. It was liberating in the fact that we just allowed ourselves to act, to be flamboyant and outrageous…”

The following year, when planning a series of works in response to the Columbian Quincentennial of 1992, Niro returned to this strategy, creating 12 new self-portraits in which she is dressed as an iconic “other.” Among the self-portraits of Niro’s This Land is Mime Land series are at least two cross-dressed impersonations. The most delightfully campy portrait depicts Niro as Elvis Presley, an icon of masculine sexuality. In Love Me Tender that sexuality is utterly deflated, as Niro refuses to play her guitar or move her hips, and the legs of her illfitting sequined jumpsuit puddle impotently around her feet. The sly smile on Niro’s face in this image attests to the fact that even – or especially – when confronting issues as serious as the legacy of colonialism, the employment of an alter ego is both a liberating experience and an effective strategy of engagement.

Fans of Shelley Niro’s work will be delighted to find that her photographic installation La Pieta (2001–2006) also graces the walls of Vantage Point: The Contemporary Native Art Collection. It is displayed in the gallery adjacent to Monkman’s Emergence of a Legend. Both can be viewed at once, the two multi-paneled compositions engaging in silent dialogue. The two works are very different in tone, yet both address serious matters: Niro’s is a haunting statement about the personal and environmental consequences of war. Like Monkman, Niro uses the male body as a sensual symbol. Standing amidst the photographs of the landscape of the Mohawk Nation in Niro’s La Pieta is a solitary figure – a softly glowing male torso. “He represents youth, perfect form at its peak,” says Niro. “There is a purity and innocence about it.” Alluring, yet understated, it moves us to contemplate the full gravity of
sacrifice and loss.

If the emotional impact of Niro’s portrayal of the Native body is owed to its sense of reserve, then it is a perfect complement to Monkman’s own performative impulse. Miss Chief was once asked the question, “Why is your personality so large, why do you overwhelm every room you walk into?”
Her reply: “Well, I am up against some very large problems, which require a large personality.” It is likely we will be seeing a lot more of Miss Chief.

Kate Morris is assistant professor of art history at Santa Clara University. She writes on contemporary Native art.

Comments (9)

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I think you and your work is amazing! Saw it in Washington!

really it's a great post! This is truly informative.

Thank you for posting this article. Im a girl who loves art and read any information about art. And your article have opened my eyes that there was great history come within great art.

nice post... i like the fourth picture on this blog, i like the combination of the white and black color of the picture. well, thanks for posting this blog.

I have seen Kent's work at the Musee des Beaux Arts de Montreal and the Musee d'Arts Contemporain. His paintings are the first thing you see when you enter the room and you are immediately drawn toward them. They are absolutely beautiful and fascinating.

Wow, this is really great stuff. Of course, I am fascinated by all things from the American West. I especially liked the painting, which shows the symbiotic bond between the Buffalo and the Indians and the prairie.

Just came across this post. I loved your work and I also had the opportunity to see it in Washington.

Nice work.

Great and informative thanks for the post.

Great blog you have to share that here. Taking on the artistic traditions of Western nineteenth century painting, Monkman's appropriations of 'New World' painting are meticulous. thanks

May 20, 2011

From the Mohegan Tribal Museum to Harvard to NMAI: An Intern's Journey (So Far)

Tantaquidgeon Indian Museum

Aquy (

My name is Rachel Sayet or Akitusu (She Who Reads), and I am a member of the Mohegan Nation.

Yes, we the Mohegan people of Connecticut, still exist, and are by no means extinct. The legendary character Uncas from James Fennimore Cooper's famous novel The Last of the Mohicans was actually, in many ways, the first of the Mohegans. Every Mohegan person today is a direct descendent of Uncas.

Melissa, Rachel, Madeline, Ruth. Gladys As the daughter of the Mohegan tribal historian, I was immersed in the culture and traditions of my people from a very young age.  Growing up, I spent a great deal of time with my great-great-aunts, Ruth and Gladys Tantaquidgeon, who lived together in a small house at the top of Mohegan Hill, just steps from our tribal museum. We would drink tea and they would tell me stories, we would celebrate the succotash season and make flags to honor it, and we would go out into the woods and pick flowers and herbs.

My aunt Gladys founded our tribal museum (called Tantaquidgeon Indian Museum) in 1931, alongside her brother Harold (a former chief of Mohegan) and her father John. Tantaquidgeon is currently the oldest Native-run museum in the country. The museum houses artifacts from the Mohegan people and others of the Eastern Woodlands, and also includes a room called "the other tribes", which has a large collection of objects from all over Indian Country. Gladys worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs as a young woman in the 1920s and ’30s and traveled to reservations all over the country, where she was well-loved and respected. Many people gave her objects as gifts, and this is where many of the artifacts in the museum come from. Continuing my family's legacy, during high school I worked several summers at the museum as a tour guide.

Tantaquidgeon Indian Museum today

Throughout her life, my mother, Melissa Tantaquidgeon Zobel has continued the good work that Gladys began. Gladys trained my mother in the traditional herbs and remedies of the Mohegan and Delaware tribes when she was just a child, and my mother taught my siblings and me the stories and traditions of our people. Gladys passed away at 106 in the year 2005, and my mother was initiated into her current role as Medicine Woman in 2008. In 2000, my mother published a biography of Gladys's life entitled Medicine Trail: The Life and Lessons of Gladys Tantaquidgeon.

This generation

Inspiration to Study Native Cultures

Fawcett family Montville parade Mohegan culture has always been part of my life. As a child, I would often go to powwows in New England. I also accompanied my mother on a repatriation trip to Kentucky when I was only eight years old. But, being the daughter of a tribal historian, I never really thought of it as something I wanted to study. It was just a part of me, though a very important part.

My mother also taught me to cook at a very young age.  During high school, I started taking cooking classes at the Mystic Cooking School, and I then felt that that was what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to be a chef or involved in food in some way. The fact that the tribe now had a casino also made me feel that this was the right career move.  

When I was 16, my mother took me on a trip to upstate New York. Little did I know what the impact of that week would be. I was tagging along with her to look at schools, but she had a greater goal, which we would reach towards the end of the trip. She was invited to speak at Sacred Circle at the Akwesasne Mohawk Reservation along the Canadian border, where she was discussing a book she had recently published. On our way up to the reservation, we visited Cornell, as well as Skidmore College, Bard College, and St. Lawrence, to name a few. I enjoyed all of the schools, but it was not until I arrived at the Akwesasne Reservation and met the late Chief Jake Swamp that I realized what a strong connection I had with that place. You see, the Mohegan people originated in upstate New York, and lived among the Iroquois for millennia. They later migrated down into Connecticut hundreds of years before colonialism.

The following summer, I participated in College Horizons, a recruitment program for Native students. There, I met the Native recruiter for Cornell, Danielle Terrance, and learned a little bit more about the school. She suggested I apply to the school of hotel /restaurant management because of my passion for food.

At Cornell, I was involved in many different extracurricular activities, which were great for me because I have diverse interests. I participated in Hotel Ezra Cornell, an annual weekend in which students in my program run events for industry leaders, and I was a food and beverage function manager for two years. I was co-chair of Native American Students at Cornell my Junior year, and I was also in an acappella group and a World Drum and Dance group.

NASAC Cornell
Although I loved my time at the Cornell Hotel School, and learned a great deal not only from coursework, but from actual experience working in several hotels and restaurants, Mohegan Sun Casino among them, I was disappointed in the fact that I was not able to take many electives in my program. Then, my senior year I took an American Indian studies course, taught by Prof. Audra Simpson from the Kahnawake Mohawk Nation. Taking a course on Native peoples which was taught by a Native professor was a new experience for me, and I learned a great deal. This course inspired me to study more about Native cultures, and possibly teach my own American Indian studies course one day.

After graduating from Cornell, and working as a personal chef for a few months, some people had suggested enrolling in graduate courses at the Harvard University Extension School, a program where it does not really matter what your undergraduate major was. I wanted to take classes about cultures and religions, something that was meaningful to me. So I decided to enroll in the prerequisites to become a master's degree candidate in anthropology, with minors in museum studies and business communication.

Museum Work

Aquinnah July 2008 During my time at Harvard, I have been able to take part in many wonderful and exciting experiences. In the summer of 2008, I completed an internship at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University. I was brought on to co-curate an exhibit on the Archaeology of Harvard Yard and Harvard's Indian college, which was founded in the 17th century. During this internship, the other curator, Danielle Charlap, and I traveled to Martha's Vineyard to meet with representatives from the Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe and ask for feedback on our exhibit ideas. In addition, we met with the Cambridge Historical Commission, members of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Bruce Curliss from the Nipmuc Nation, and Elizabeth Solomon from Massachuseuk at Ponkapoag. The section of the exhibit that I worked on was that of the Indian College, which was founded in 1655 and built under Harvard's 1650 charter which devoted the institution "to the education of English and Indian Youth of this Country..." Five students attended the Indian college, but only one survived to graduate. Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Geraldine Brooks recently completed a novel about this student, Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck , who was from the Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe.

Harvard excavation Immediately following the internship, I was hired by the Peabody Museum as a research assistant.  In that role, I have had been able to contribute to various projects at the Peabody Museum including creating their only online exhibit Digging Veritas Online Exhibit, finding photos and articles for their exhibit on Plains ledger art, and researching the history of their Native North American Dioramas. I have also been very privileged to attend many repatriation ceremonies at the museum, and to meet people from all over Indian Country.

Throughout graduate school I also did readings about the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) in Washington DC, and came to visit the museum on a few occasions. I've always been interested in this museum because it is a modern museum that respects the Native communities, and lets their voices be heard—a very new practice.

Over the course of my internship in the Publications Office here at NMAI, I have been involved in many projects such as proofreading the manuscript Past, Present, and Future: Challenges of the National Museum of the American Indian, writing captions for the museum’s Map and Guide, doing research and fact checking for a new exhibit on treaties for the state of Minnesota, editing the brochure for the festival This IS Hawai`i (this weekend at the museum in Washington), and working on the quiz show questions for the new imagiNATIONS Activity Center. All of these experiences have opened my eyes a little more as to what actually goes on in publications here, the types of projects they work on, and the amount of redrafting and research involved.

Newberry NAISA

After I complete this internship, I will be returning to work on my master’s thesis entitled: “The Return of Moshup: The Re-inscription of Native Stories on the New England Landscape.” Through interviews with culture bearers and storytellers at the Mohegan and Aquinnah Wampanoag reservations, as well as research in newspapers, books, and journals pertaining to these stories, I will prove how traditions of Moshup the giant reinforce sovereignty for the two communities. My great-great-aunt Gladys began this work in the 1920s, when she set out to collect stories on Martha's Vineyard, which she then recorded. Today, almost a century later, I continue the work that she began, with the goal of expanding awareness of our community and the Aquinnah Wampanoag community to the general public, as well as to demonstrate that the Natives of New England have traditions that are very much alive, and vital to their survival as modern-day nations.

Ni ya yo: It is so.

—Rachel Sayet, NMAI intern, spring 2011

Norwich 350

Images are captioned in order of top to bottom; individuals are named from left to right. All photographs appear courtesy of the writer and her family. 

The Tantaquidgeon Indian Museum, ca. 1931. Uncasville, Connecticut.

The writer with her mother, sister, and great-great aunts, ca. 1993: Melissa Tantaquidgeon Zobel, Madeline Sayet (in front), Rachel Sayet, Gladys Tantaquidgeon, and Ruth Tantaquidgeon.

The Tantaquidgeon Indian Museum today.

The latest generation, at the memorial service and celebration of Gladys Tantaquidgeon's life, Fort Shantok, Connecticut, 2005: Rachel Sayet, David Sayet, and Madeline Sayet.

The Montville Parade, ca. 1994: Melissa Tantaquidgeon Zobel, David Sayet, and  Rachel Sayet.

A Native American Students at Cornell (NASAC) meeting in Akwe:kon, the university's Native American house, fall 2005: Rachel Sayet, Rachelle Begay (Navajo), Amber Dawn LaFrance (Akwesasne Mohawk), Nicole Wheeler, Ben Koffel.

During consultations on the Harvard project with the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head, Aquinnah, Massachusetts, July 2008: Danielle Charlap, Tobias Vanderhoop, and Rachel Sayet. The tribal offices are in the background. Courtesy Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. copyright President and Fellows of Harvard College.

Groundbreaking for the Harvard Yard summer archaeological dig, 2009: Rachel Sayet and Jim Peters (Mashpee Wampanoag), executive director, Massachusetts Commission on Indian Affairs. Courtesy Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. copyright President and Fellows of Harvard College. 

Graduate students from the first annual Summer Institute in American Indian Studies at the Newberry Library, in Chicago, 2009, reunite as presenters at the The Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA) conference, in Tucson, Arizona 2010: Parween Ebrahim (Princeton University), Rachel Sayet(Harvard University), Christina Dickerson (Vanderbilt University alumn), Matthew Planteen ( University of Wyoming), Scott Stevens (Akwesasne Mohawk, director of the D'arcy McNickle Center for American Indian Studies at the Newberry Library), John Robinson (University of Montana), Kate Beane (Santee Dakota, University of Minnesota), Maeve Kane (Cornell University).

Mohegan tribal members taking part in commemorating the 350th anniversary of the founding of Norwich, Connecticut, 2009.

Comments (24)

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I really enjoyed this blog that you posted. I am Cherokee and currently attend Haskell Indian Nations University. I will be at NMAI this summer for an internship in collections management. It would be great to meet you if you are still there this summer.

Keep up the good work Rachel. Your generation is making all of us in Indian Country so proud!

What a great journey!.
Awesome inspiration.

i don't know why but i love the house pictures in this blog. they look like so comfortable and homy, just like home =)

Such an admirable journey you have Rachel.I can see that you have really gave your best in everything that you do.

The more that we all can learn about our own heritage as well as others the more accepting we all can be. I just get tired of the uneducated public making assumptions about people without having a clue of what they are talking about. http://www.hotelpackagedeals.net

Internship is the most enjoyable part in college. Seems that you really had an enjoyable journey. Keep it up. You are such an inspiration to every reader of this post including me.

I have to say that your attitude inspire me. Your love to your nation and heritage are so… huge. It is visible that you enjoy your life. That is amazing and a little bit enviable. I’ve never felt myself as the real part of my nation. Maybe that is because my closer ancestry comes from almost ten nations. But I feel that you have passion and that is in your article and that is great (both – article and you attitude)!

There are really people that are best in everything they do. Like Rachel, I think she has the right attitude.  

Rachel is such an inspiration to every student. Being good and persevere with all the things she does is another value or attitude that every student should take note.

i love blog.nmai.si.edu is give some good news and nice story. will bookmark for the future :)

It's an interesting experience
thank you for sharing, i am very inspired

Rachel, what an invaluable experience and history you have to have been taught in the ways of herbal medicine and the healing power of nature. I make and use herbal remedies also and they are a blessing for many! Thank you so much for sharing!

One of the benefits of the casinos that I really like are the museums that they have built. For me, any go to Foxwoods or Mohegan with them, I always stop in the museums. Learning about the history and culture of Native Americans is more enjoyable for me then trying for the elusive 7 7 7.

Top to bottom all pics are amazing. Yeah I absolutely agree with you all photographs appear courtesy of the writer and her family.

I came to the nmai.si site to get some history of beads. And ended up spending a few hours reading about things other than beads. Just wanted to say nice start on your journey.

I love reading a post where I learn something new, well, at least for me. I've no idea about a tribe called Mohegan tribe before and it good to be educated, my apology for my ignorance). Glad to have read your post.


What an excellent story...I am an Ojibway Native from Nipissing First Nation in Ontario, Canada.

I have completed an Aerospace program and obtained my commercial Pilots License and Flight Instructor Rating from Canadore College and First Nations Technical Institute here in Ontario, Canada.

Its great to hear such achievements from our Anishinaabe.

I too have fellow Anishinaabe that have completed a Hospitality degree in hotel management and now work at Prestigious establishments. We as a people can achieve and accomplish much when we have such positive examples such as Rachel.


Greetings, my grand mother was Cherokee and I LOVE anything from the first people. I attend sweat lodges and dances every chance I get. Thanks soooo much for sharing.

Such an admirable journey you have Rachel.I can see that you have really gave your best in everything that you do.

Beautiful, makes very happy

Interesting to read lovely writing.Ayurvedic Consultation

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Good information. I came to learn information that I do not know. Thank you.

May 17, 2011

“Testing” something new. . . Just to hear from you!

A family arrives at the National Museum of the American Indian and begins to go through exhibitions. There are two things happening. The parents and children are reacting to what the museum presents, and they are sharing their experience with each other. Every visit is a set of conversations among visitors, and between visitors and the museum. As we build the new Activity Center, this exchange is one of our most important considerations. To make the best use of the visitors’ side of the conversation, we are engaging in a number of trials of new activities. 

An activity is developed, and a model of the activity is created—a buildable igloo, a quiz show, an oversized basket for weaving. Or skateboarding, a popular sport among American Indian young people. When a model activity goes public for a weekend, it is accompanied by museum staff who evaluate and record information. The most important thing the staff is looking for is your experience with the model. Whatever your age or background, we need your impressions and those of your family. We could just observe, but we would not get the whole story. Each person has a different view, and we need them all to make a better final model. Just last week we tested a skateboard activity. You told us we needed better instructions. We followed your advice and made a bright new set of instructions. The skateboard activity got far more use, and the background information was read by many more people. It is a new activity that succeeded with advice from people like you. 

It's all in the body English

Testing the skateboard simulation for the Family Activity Center, Spring 2011. Skateboarding and the skills it demands are a source of friendship and self-esteem on many reservations. The sport is all courage, style, and balance—or at least body English. Photo by Katherine Fogden (Mohawk), NMAI.

By listening to families trying out new activities we get the best results. We invite you to try out new activity models throughout the summer. When you do, please have a chat with the museum staff about the new activity. Playing, talking, and working together we will make the best activity center for everyone. You will be having fun and doing something good for yourself, and your advice will make the activity better for many other families.

What is the big end-result?

When families visit the new activity center, each will begin a conversation about the Native peoples of the Americas, their histories, traditions, and modern lives. That conversation will continue during the visitors’ time in the museum and stay with them when they return home. Every time some relevant comes up in education, current events, or national holiday celebrations, that family conversation will continue. Your conversation with the museum will also continue when you return for favorite activities or to try new ones, to listen to stories, to explore the rest of the museum with your family. We will be looking forward to seeing you, hearing your thoughts, and watching families with children enjoy themselves.

Eric Marr, Activity Center coordinator 
NMAI on the National Mall

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Playing, talking, and working together we will make the best activity center for everyone.